WILKES COUNTY, N.C. — A Wilkes County woman who has spent 30 years in prison for the murders of her grandparents has been granted clemency, according to a release from Gov. Roy Cooper's office.
April Leigh Barber is now 46 years old. She was just 15 when she killed her grandparents with the help of her 29-year-old boyfriend. She was serving two life sentences.
She'll now be released from prison.
"While incarcerated, Ms. Barber has been consistently employed and has participated in significant programming, including earning her G.E.D. and paralegal certificate," the governor's office said in a release.
Her husband, William Scales, spoke to her for the first time since her clemency was announced on Thursday night.
Scales and Barber have been married for nearly 10 years. They met while she was incarcerated.
"It hasn't sunk in for her yet," Scales said. "I told her it'll probably hit her tonight when she lays down and goes to sleep. She will probably cry herself to sleep because I'll probably cry myself to sleep."
Barber spoke exclusively with WFMY News 2's Chad Silber in 2015 about the killings.
Her grandparents raised her in their North Wilkesboro home. They adopted Barber after birth because her parents couldn't care for her.
She met Clinton Johnson in 1991. He was twice her age, but it didn't matter.
"Everything seemed perfect in my world, I was in love," Barber recalled.
She got pregnant.
"I was 15 when I came, and pregnant, and very scared," she recalled.
She wanted to keep the baby but knew her grandparents wouldn't approve, so she devised a plan with her boyfriend.
"It was never a matter of us wanting to kill them, it was just like 'gosh, what can we do to scare them, to just get them off our back,'" Barber recalled.
The night of Sept. 4, 1991, Barber and her boyfriend poured gasoline in her grandparents' house and set fire to it.
Aaron Barber died in the blaze. His wife Lillie died days later from her injuries in the fire.
Barber later had a baby boy.
Johnson also went to prison for the murders. He died of natural causes on May 14, 1999 while at the Central Prison.
A Second Chance
Barber told us in 2015 why she felt she deserved clemency.
"I think I have proven myself as far as that I have changed, that I'm not the same irrational person, and I think that my story in itself could help deter people from making the same mistakes that I did," Barber said.
Her attorney, Don Vaughan, agrees that she's changed.
"She has certainly bettered herself, one-hundred percent," Vaughan said. "She is taking full responsibility for this. Thank goodness Governor Cooper gave her a second chance."
The governor commuted her sentence following changes to state law that increased the minimum age to be tried as an adult to 18 years old. Barber's commutation was among the first recommended by the new Juvenile Sentencing Board.
"She deserves it. She needs a second chance," Scales said.
Her husband is now counting the days to her release. It will be the first time he's seen her outside of prison.
"I will probably squeeze her so tight she might break. I'll give her a great big hug," Scales said.
Vaughan said Barber could be released in about two weeks and that she has a job lined up to be a paralegal.